The parents of a 2-year-old boy take him to the Community Dental Center because his teeth hurt and his check is swollen.
His parents see "some holes" and they are concerned because his front teeth are breaking off. The toddler needs extensive pediatric dental care to restore his dental health, but neither of his parents has dental insurance through their jobs. The bill will be several hundred dollars to eliminate immediate emergencies and into the thousands if all necessary work is completed.
A pregnant young woman without dental insurance goes to the Emergency Room for an infected wisdom tooth. The hospital can do nothing more than treat the infection with antibiotics.
A 12-year old boy has fractured a healthy front tooth during a fall on the playground. He needs a root canal and a crown to save the tooth but his father's job does not offer dental insurance. Without additional help, the boy eventually will lose the tooth.
Many families working low-paying jobs are forced to put dental concerns at a lower priority than paying rent and buying groceries until a dental crisis occurs and they are forced to seek treatment at the Emergency Room. The Emergency Room is not equipped to treat the underlying problems such as dental decay, abscess and preventative care.
"Lycoming County United Way (LCUW) is committed to working with agencies throughout Lycoming County by providing crucial funding, technical assistance and community-building efforts," said Rosann Pelleschi, director of funds distribution and community building. "LCUW takes a leadership role to coordinate and collaborate with community resources to meet identified needs in our community. One critical need is dental care for children and adults for services not covered by any other means."
In 2008, LCUW received a $20,000 grant from The Williamsport-Lycoming Community Foundation (The Foundation) to implement an Emergency Dental Care Initiative.
"Through community surveys we conducted in cooperation with The Foundation, both of our organizations recognized the growing problem of dental needs throughout Lycoming County. We are indebted to The Foundation for its support and collaboration with us to be able to broaden the scope of dental services to help improve dental health and awareness," said Scott N. Lowery, LCUW executive director.
The initiative is a collaborative effort with Head Start, Hughesville School District, Muncy School District, Montgomery School District, Susquehanna Health Dental Clinic, Shepherd of the Streets and human service providers with United Way functioning as the coordinator.
"The purpose of this program is to provide the financial means for children and adults in Lycoming County to obtain dental care not covered by Medical Assistance, CHIP, or any other funding source," explained Pelleschi.
"This program enables human service providers, school nurses, and the Susquehanna Health Dental Clinic, the financial resource to arrange for oral surgeries, and/or emergency dental care for children and adults who they have evaluated and determined are in dire need of dental care."
The Emergency Dental Care Initiative serves poverty-level and low income population of Lycoming County.
According to school nurse for East Lycoming School District, Audrey Gabriel, "Pennsylvania's schools are mandated to ensure that children have dental exams performed in kindergarten or first grade and again in the third and seventh grades. These dental screenings are intended as a general inspection of the mouth to observe oral health problems and to establish priorities for subsequent comprehensive dental exams and treatments as needed.
"As part of the exam, the dentist ranks each child on priority and those needing urgent attention and meeting the program's income guidelines are referred," Gabriel added.
Participating school nurses report the critical impacts of poor dental care on children include increased absence from school due to dental pain, negative effects on social well-being at school and low self-esteem. In addition, severe dental problems cause nutritional problems, slow growth and behavior and attention problems.
"It is amazing to see the change in the patients after treatment. Most of the patients have had ongoing, recurring pain and discomfort - that just becomes normal to them. After having their work done, they realize just how uncomfortable and sometimes unwell, that their teeth were making them feel," said Lora Malloy of West Branch Dental Group, which treats many of the patients in the area served by the grant.
"We had one patient that was very withdrawn and would not look at us or speak to us. She was in need of extensive dental work that was scheduled over a period of time. By the time she was done, she was outgoing and smiled constantly. I believe it was because she was no longer in pain and was proud of the way her smile looked that brought about the transformation," Malloy explained.
"Had the grant not been available, I do not believe that many of these patients would have sought treatment. I also believe that by educating these patients we are closer to changing the mentality that you need to wait until a tooth hurts before seeking treatment. These patients are seeing that teeth can be treated and fixed rather than just being extracted," Malloy concluded.
Because of the grant from The Foundation to United Way, people who would have fallen through the cracks now can receive the help they need.
For more information on Lycoming County United Way or to support the campaign, call 323-9448 or visit the office at 1225 Clayton Ave.